Before defining digital storytelling, it may be necessary to explain the importance of story itself. Stories do three things: they make sense of facts, help events fall into place and put values in context.
Stories make sense of facts. If facts aren’t put in context of events, they become meaningless. For example, the fact that John Adams defended a group of British soldiers is, alone, pretty meaningless. But put the fact in context of the larger story of the Boston Tea Party and the fact that the soldiers Adams defended were the soldiers firing on Boston Common, and Adams’ advocacy becomes significant. In digital storytelling, this element of storytelling is necessary if otherwise random facts and artifacts have any power.
Stories also make sense of events. For example, after the Haiti earthquake, a few stories emerged that sought to made sense of the tragedy. The predominant narrative from the media and government was humanitarian. Haiti had experienced a major crisis, and the United States, with its vast resources, would help the country come out of the crisis, building it into a better nation. A much less popular narrative explained that the earthquake was a result of an ongoing worship of the devil. Whatever one might think of this latter story, it nonetheless illustrates the need to apply story to a crisis in order to make sense of events.
Stories also give a culture its sense of values. For example, Elizabeth Bennett’s refusal of Mr. Collins demonstrates the perils of marrying for security instead of love without having to experience the hazards of such a union. By watching the play Othello, we learn to value loyal advisers. In the Odyssey, we learn the value of wits over physical strength. You can’t teach values in the classroom, but you can through story.
Added to these elements of traditional story, digital storytelling brings in new media elements. What distinguishes digital stories from traditional ones is that they actively appeal to more senses, principally visual and audio. Because of these additional platforms, digital stories can be more accessible than traditional written stories.
There are advantages and drawbacks to digital stories. Visual and audio elements allow the creation of a more appealing story, allowing the viewer to see settings as they really were, and a person’s voice can convey emotion more readily. Yet these elements can stifle the imaginative sense much like the way movies can suffocate the world of a book. Yet there’s evidence that digital stories do not have to cave to this end. Like Hitchcock said in his AFI interview, good digital stories should seek to preserve this imaginative sense.
To summarize, stories help us make sense of life and digital storytelling expands the traditional storytelling to more media platforms. Both help us to see our greater story, to sharpen our life’s purpose, and to make more effective decisions.